1619 was a pivotal year in Virginia for many reasons, but author K.I. Knight says that one key issue that did not begin in 1619 was slavery. The “Twenty and odd” did arrive in August 1619, but according to Ms. Knight’s meticulous research the “Twenty” were in fact 14 at first, and many of those 14 went on to help save the colony after the 1622 uprising before securing land of their own. Some of them, like Anthony Johnson, even owned slaves themselves.
For sure, slavery seems to have been around the Virginia landscape in some form by the 1640s, but it wasn’t the institution that it became by the 18th and 19th centuries. Kathryn puts together an astounding narrative weaving extant court and genealogical records together to prove that the immoral institution evolved over time, before it became legally organized by the late 1690s and early 1700s. Exact beginning dates are hard to pin down, largely due to lost records. Regardless, the foundations for American slavery were being set during the 17th Century, and this episode discusses those foundations as they occurred in Virginia.
Virginia continued to expand beyond the James River by the time Sir William Berkeley arrived. Much of that expansion spread northward into traditional Powhatan power centers along the Middle Peninsula, and further northward into the Northern Neck.
Some of the Powhatan tribes didn’t take kindly to English encroachment. Notably, the 1622 massacre leader, Opechancanough, decided to do something about those expanding English settlements. He led a fresh attack in April 1644.
In spite of more than 500 deaths and a new Anglo-Powhatan War, the English continued expanding into new lands. By 1646 the English had won the war, Opechancanough was killed, and his successor signed the Treaty of Middle Plantation. Now, land restrictions, both legal and belligerent were removed.
With no restrictions, English Virginia expansion rapidly entered a new phase. That new phase, however, brought new challenges that were rooted in older foundations.
Tangier Island, where many Powhatan Warriors were sent during the 3rd Anglo-Powhatan War
The Middle Peninsula offered much land for incoming settlers, such as this pastoral scene from Elsing Green
Petersburg was founded as a military outpost during the 3rd Anglo-Powhatan War
The Rappahannock, where many incoming settlers began gobbling up land, such as this location, Belle Grove at Port Conway, a site notable in that it was where future President Madison was born.
The Potomac River from Stratford Hall, seat of the Lee Family, on the Northern Neck.
America wasn’t always the industrial powerhouse that it is today. She has built herself into that dynamo on the backs of people willing to take risks, risks that included sudden death by disease, starvation, and Native American attack to name a few. This was the situation in Virginia, and subsequently America’s, first attempt at heavy industry.
Falling Creek Ironworks was a Virginia Company venture that began in 1619, failed, and then tried again in 1622 before it was wiped out during Opechancanough’s 1622 massacre. Other ventures took place at Falling Creek before the site was forgotten and lost for about a century, when archaeologists began taking interest in the late 19th Century. Those 19th century archaeologists mistakenly believed that they had discovered the original 17th century ironworks, but instead found Archibald Cary’s 18th century site.
After winter storms washed out Falling Creek in 2007 Chesterfield County workers noticed newer features that they hadn’t previously seen. That’s when Lyle Browning, an expert in ironworks archaeology was notified. Mr. Browning has conducted numerous tests at Falling Creek, which has indeed proven the whereabouts of the original 17th century ironworks established by the Virginia Company.
In this interview, Mr. Browning joins me to discuss Falling Creek’s history, importance, future plans, as well as the 400th Anniversary celebration organized by Chesterfield County.
Economics is at the heart of why Virginia existed. Colony founders wanted to become wealthy, the Crown saw it’s own mercantilistic opportunity, and settlers risked their lives in order to find a better station in life.
How did Virginia’s key players accomplish their goals? Were their policies sound? If not, what impact did they have on the colony? My guest, Tony Williams answered those questions and more in his book The Jamestown Experiment.
Tony argues that in a changing world the Virginia settlers figured out that the key to economic growth hinged upon private property. Once the Virginia Company extended private land ownership to the colonists the Colony began to emerge from her macabre past. The emergence wasn’t perfect, but it was the beginning of a profound economic explosion that made Virginia wealthy.
The lessons learned in 17th Century Virginia influenced later generations and laid the foundation from which the United States built itself into the wealthiest country in the world. As such, it is still wise to take a look back into Jamestown’s experiment today.
For decades prevailing thought said that 17th Century Virginia was chaotic, had little to build upon, and therefore left a scanty legacy. Historians such as Bernard Bailyn prominently argued that 17th Century Virginia was untamed and chaotic, but in 1985 Jon Kukla challenged that opinion.
Dr. Kukla argued that Pre-Restoration 17th Century Virginia was anything but chaotic and did indeed have order. That order may not be what we think of today, yet the foundations that Virginia settlers laid down in the 17th Century allowed for subsequent generations to build a strong colony. That colony would then go on to profoundly influence America’s founding generation, which in turn built what was then a radically different governmental/political entity that the world had never seen.
William Berkeley arrived in Virginia during the winter 1642. He had many obstacles to overcome, even before he left England, but once he handled those obstacles he started to build a solid foundation from which to govern Virginia.
In spite of former Governor Harvey’s failures, he did put a few things in place that Berkeley could build upon, such as increased domestic government. Berkeley decided to keep those innovations in place, and work through those established channels to get the job done.
Berkeley’s approach to Virginia’s affairs endeared him to the many opposing factions. He’d need all the help he could get to govern the colony, especially considering the ambiguous political situation upon Berkeley’s arrival.
A potentially volatile Powhatan tribe made Berkeley’s position all the more tenuous. But the new governor was up to the task, and the beginning of his first gubernatorial tenure signaled a time of stability unseen in the colony. Virginia was now poised to advance like never before.
I love traveling all over Virginia. Finding off the beaten path locations, eating at local dives, learning poignant stories combine to make each trip memorable. Sometimes, however, I don’t have to travel to experience all that Virginia has to offer. Sometimes it’s in my back yard. That’s the case with Fort Monroe.
Fort Monroe’s story spans more than 400 years, even longer if one includes what we know of the native Kecoughtan tribe. The original Jamestown colonists first met the Kecoughtans in Spring 1607 before the colonists sailed up river to establish Jamestown. The colonists came back, established friendly relations, and over time built a series of lookout posts that endured through some hardest struggles that the colonists suffered.
That colonial outpost became the port of entry for one of America’s great peoples. In 1619 “20 and odd negroes” from Angola arrived signaling the beginning of a new era in Virginia and America’s history. That history hasn’t always been laudable as those original settlers built new lives and saw their progeny forced into slavery by as early as the 1640s. Those slaves and their stories have left a deep imprint not only on Virginia’s historical landscape, but on her physical makeup as well.
Point Comfort and her early fortifications developed into more permanent bastions in the early 19th century, largely aided by slave labor. After the British marauded the Chesapeake Bay region and burned Washington DC during the War of 1812, the sorely embarrassed government undertook a series of forts built to ensure such an invasion would never happen again. Fort Monroe was the keystone in that military wall.
The best military engineers of the day, including Robert E. Lee, descended upon Hampton to build the stone structure, as well as her sister fort known then as Fort Calhoun, but now known as Fort Wool, just off of Point Comfort’s coast.
These engineers were so successful that when the Civil War exploded onto history’s pages the Union maintained control of Fort Monroe, and never endured a serious threat to losing control of the strategic location.
Because the Union kept control they could use the fort as a starting point of major campaign thrusts toward Richmond. But the fort was also used for something else. Area slaves viewed Fort Monroe as potential salvation. Freedom.
On one May 1861 night three slaves tested their fate. They got into a skiff near Sewell’s Point, Norfolk, and rowed across the dangerous Hampton Roads waterway to reach Fort Monroe.
The Fort’s commanding officer, Benjamin Butler, had just been installed a day earlier, and now he had a decision to make. Butler was a lawyer from Massachusetts. He knew full well the law stating that runaway slaves were to be returned to their masters under the Fugitive Slave Law, but in a history changing decision, Butler decided to keep the runaway slaves as “contrabands of war.”
Word of Butler’s decision spread, and many more slaves poured into “Freedom’s Fortress” throughout the war.
After the Civil War ended, the region’s blacks largely remained. They started schools, notably built upon Mary Peake’s pioneering work, some of which was done in Fort Monroe before her 1862 death.
The American Missionary Association brought black and white leaders together in 1868 to formalize education by starting the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, today’s Hampton University. Their mission was to teach and train freed black slaves, which attracted attention far and wide, perhaps most famously, Booker T. Washington.
Because of new opportunities, America’s black history, beginning in 1619, could now be seen as beginning anew in the 1860s, and it still centered at Point Comfort. The shining monument to that storied history is Fort Monroe, “Freedom’s Fortress.”
1619 was the beginning of Black History in English North America. That history began here at Point Comfort.
Lee’s Quarters, as seen from Fort Monroe’s South Wall
Fort Monroe’s Southeastern wall and moat
Gun emplacements atop Fort Monroe
Quarter’s #1, where Lincoln stayed while visiting Fort Monroe
The “Lincoln” gun
Entrance to Fort Monroe’s Casemate Museum
Casemate Museum at Fort Monroe
Harriet Tubman honored at Fort Monroe
Edgar Allan Poe at Fort Monroe
Inside Fort Monroe’s Casemate Museum
Jefferson Davis Park
The Jefferson Davis Exhibit at Fort Monroe’s Casemate Museum
Jefferson Davis Jail Cell at Fort Monroe
Inside Jefferson Davis Jail Cell at Fort Monroe
Examples of the types of shells used at Fort Monroe
A recreated watering hole at Fort Monroe’s Casemate Museum
A cargo ship passes Fort Monroe and her outer defenses at Hampton Roads
Virginians exerted a measure of some independence in electing their own governors for a short time during the 1620s. But King Charles and his privy council as well as a cabal of London merchants wanted to take some power back for themselves. These groups accomplished their goal by appointing Captain John Harvey to be governor in 1628.
Harvey arrived in Virginia sometime during late winter, early spring 1630. He tried to impose a more centralized authority on the colony, but the Virginian’s wanted none of it.
When another well connected merchant entered into the mix, a wide rift separated Virginians from newly arriving Maryland settlers. John Harvey fell on the wrong side of that ever widening chasm, and lost it all. What became Harvey’s loss, however, became Virginia’s gain.
Virginia became officially became a Royal Colony in 1624. What did that mean? Would the newly formed freedoms be sacrificed on the monarchical altar? What about the rapidly expanding economy? Would that be brought back under governmental control, and suffer under mercantilistic ideas?
Virginia’s second generation had all of these questions and more in mind upon receiving news of the Virginia Company’s demise due to Royal interference. Sure, they suffered, and continued suffering for years to come, but they were figuring out life in the New World. The last thing they wanted was to be plagued by the Old World systems that they had risked their lives to escape.
As a result, 1620s Virginia became an era of change. Englishmen became Virginians, and those Virginians used their fledgling colonial freedoms to their fullest. Their work ensured a permanence hitherto unknown. It also ensured that Virginia was here to stay.
Virginia has certainly had her fair share of outstanding historical figures, both men and women. In this interview, the Library of Virginia’s Dr. Sandra Gioia Treadway and I discuss just 5 of the many important women to have graced our storied past.
Women highlighted in this episode are –
Anna Maria Lane
Elizabeth Van Lew
These women were daring, powerful, and brilliant. Tune in to hear what made them great!
Anna Maria Lane Marker in Richmond, Virginia
Elizabeth Van Lew’s Grave at Shockoe Hill Cemetery, Richmond, VA
Mary Jackson’s Grave at Bethel AME Church, Hampton, VA
The Pamunkey Frontlet, presented to Cockacoeske as a gift from King Charles II